#Pride2020: How Sainsbury's and Co-op take pride in LGBTQ+ diversity

During the month of Pride there’s no shortage of brands changing their logo colours rainbow and celebrating LGBTQ+ diversity: making a positive visual statement. However, inclusivity doesn’t end when the bunting comes down. And while retailers have done a lot in recent years, the sector still has a long way to go.

According to charity Stonewall’s Top 100 Employers 2020 report – which measures LGBTQ+ inclusion in the workplace – Sainsbury’s was the only retailer to make this year’s list. Maz Mcnally, Sainsbury’s head of inclusion, tells Essential Retail retailers must do more.   “Organisations need to make the strategic shift away from a focus on Pride and just having an ongoing network for representation.”

Continuous change

“It’s all about having the focus on what does it feel like to be LGBT at work – what does the colleague experience look like? What support are you offering your LGBT colleagues? How are you educating your colleagues? Do you have visible role models and are you telling great stories around how these people got where they are?”

The grocer has a dedicated diversity and inclusion team, while its colleague network Proud@Sainsbury’s has over 1,800 members. It also has a mentoring programmes for LGBTQ+ staff, led by senior LGBTQ+ colleagues. “This allows great visibility of role models and shows our colleagues that we actively embrace and welcome LGBT talent in our organisation,” says McNally.

James Smuts, joint chair of Co-op’s LGBTQ+ colleague network Respect, agrees that it is crucial to actively work with senior management “to better educate and celebrate our colleagues across the group.” Co-op is among a handful of retailers to have frequented Stonewall’s annual ranking. “We’re determined to re-enter the Stonewall top 100 employers list and have worked with the diversity and inclusion team to identify and agree on the steps we need to take,” he tells Essential Retail.

Smuts says inclusion needs to be an organisation-wide issue. “We also try and make sure it’s part of everyone’s responsibility to create a more inclusive culture and this will go even further this year when we start to implement inclusive leadership development for all of our leaders with the support of the exec.”

The body uses data to track diversity within the group so its HR team can understand how representative it is in the communities it serves. "From a colleague perspective, particularly if you are more diverse, it also means we can ensure that our processes and practices are fair, and there is an equal opportunity to thrive and progress."

But it also goes beyond the organisation. “As a business, we’re very focused on ensuring our values are mirrored by those of our suppliers. That includes making sure that the people employed by our business partners are treated with equality and acceptance.”

Digital diversity

In recent years Co-op has done a lot to become a more digital business. But the group has been mindful to ensure equality is encoded in how it operates. That consideration should also applies to new technologies such as AI, where bias can exist particularly when coders that develop it are often themselves not that diverse, says Smuts.

“In IT, where I work, we also have a group called DiverseIT who are passionate about making sure that IT and our technology function teams are diverse in terms of representation and also in their practices,” he says.

“In light of lockdown, Respect has worked to generate more and more content for its online channels, and we’ve seen our members really engage. Our CEO Steve Murrells is pushing for internal communications networks to be available to colleagues Co-op wide. We’re closely monitoring progress to find new routes to connecting with our network and to thriving as a virtual community.”

Mcnally agrees it is important to ensure IT is more representative. “Diversity is a key focus for our tech team, as we know the tech industry here in the UK is not representative of our population. In November, our CTO for retail tech, who is a visible LGBT+ leader in Sainsbury’s Tech, hosted a  networking event in our Holborn office called ‘Making Inclusive Tech Workplaces’ for LGBT+ people in the tech industry. We support all our line and hiring managers with training on inclusive recruitment and being aware of and acting upon unconscious bias.”

For both retailers, celebrating Pride is an opportunity to mark their ongoing work in this area. “We’re taking the opportunity to connect with our colleagues virtually through a range of informative webinars, competitions and social activities to connect colleagues from around the business,” says Sainsbury’s McNally. “We’re also thinking about our colleagues’ broader circumstances, take a university student for example who’s taken the opportunity to come out at university but has then returned home for lockdown – it’s vital to us that we create a virtual safe space for them, whilst still allowing them to engage with all the fun.”

Smuts says despite lockdown measures, Co-op continues to field requests from stores and depots across the country for flags and t-shirts. “There’s a real appetite to mark local Prides however we can, for us to be part of our communities and let our colours shine brightly. We whole heartedly encourage that. We’ve also run a series of educational webinars internally, helping colleagues further recognise the significance and importance of Pride.”

Photo credits (iStock): firebrandphotography/mattjeacock

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